With just four matches remaining in the 2010 regular season and the Wisconsin volleyball team’s playoff chances on life support, the time to look forward to next season begins.Fortunately for the Badgers, no position looks brighter for the future of the team than the middle blockers.Sophomore Alexis Mitchell has made a splash in her second year as a starter and has cemented herself as a staple in the starting lineup, but the other middle position could be up for grabs.Freshman Dominique Thompson seems to be the logical choice to step up, but head coach Pete Waite is excited by the possibility of not just Thompson, but also of the prospect of junior Elle Ohlander, junior Kristy Bourquin and redshirt sophomore Kelsey Maloney all competing for playing time.“That’s the great part, they will battle to improve their games to be the one on the court and to be the most reliable one out there,” Waite said.Thompson has started 17 of the team’s 24 matches and ranks fifth on the team in kills. She has also worked hard to improve her blocking, an apparent weakness entering college.“I think that my blocking has gotten a lot better this year. We work on it a lot [in practice] and I’ve made that one of main goals, to work on my blocking,” Thompson said. “Working on reaching in and pushing over.”Another thing in her favor to win the starting nod is her innate similarities to the incumbent starter Mitchell, who made obvious her choice to become the second middle blocker next season.“I think Dom has a really good chance to be the second middle as long as she focuses on what she needs to improve,” Thompson said. “She’s done some great things on the court and I think if she just builds on that in the offseason she’ll definitely be that next middle because she has so much speed and athleticism.”Thompson, who stands at roughly the same height as Mitchell, projects to have eerily similar stats to Mitchell in her 2009 freshman campaign.“I see a lot of myself in her when I was a freshman,” Mitchell said.If Thompson makes the same strides as Mitchell has in the last year, Waite will have two very talented middles on his hands.Mitchell, who had a career-high 21 kills in a match last weekend at Ohio State, has established herself as not only the go-to middle, but one of the go-to hitters and vocal leaders as well.“It’s really been great to see the progress she made from freshman year to sophomore year. She was just a raw athlete as a freshman and was pretty erratic offensively, but now she’s really finding her game and really becoming a big force in the Big Ten,” Waite said. “It’s becoming a great connection between Nellie and Alexis, and she’s really driving hard and seeing the block.”The main things to improve upon for Mitchell over the next year are to stay healthy – something she was not always able to do this season – enhance her leadership skills and, in typical middle blocker fashion, increase her blocking prowess.“I really wanna work on my blocking stats up a lot more and become more of a dominant blocker on the team and in the conference,” Mitchell said. “I think with a lot of the great middle blockers that are gonna be leaving, I have a big opportunity to make an impact in the blocking stats and then just working on it all offseason so I can improve a lot.”Despite their height, the two use their quickness and leaping ability to compete with generally taller opponents.“Both have long arms and a big jump, so you can make up for it in different ways,” Waite said.Mitchell, Thompson and the three others hoping to force their way into the starting rotation all look to give problems to the coaching staff over who will play – a great problem to have for Waite and the Badgers.
It’s like getting together with your buddies to watch a football game. You all get in a room, chat about what you’re watching and crack jokes with each other. It’s the same concept for streamers, but instead of 10 friends in a living room, it’s 10,000 “friends” on a streaming platform. The bottom line is that the esports community should not be afraid to show its pride for video games. Streamers have laid the framework to help integrate the community into the mainstream. Streamers have developed a community with their audiences. Thousands of viewers with similar interests are simultaneously watching and chatting with each other. These massive fan bases have chat rooms dedicated solely to discussing video games and streamers. At any given moment, I can log on to Twitch or YouTube Gaming and find someone playing the games I love. There will be hundreds or thousands of other people watching the same game at the same time. It’s reassuring to know that other people share your interests and that at any point of the day you can “hang out” — albeit virtually — with those people. It’s nice to know that you aren’t a weird outcast whose passion is always stigmatized. Video games are often seen as a niche community. I’ve experienced this firsthand. People are afraid to express their interest in gaming, fearing judgment because of the stigma games can carry. But why would anyone want to watch random people play video games, especially if they’re not very good to begin with? The answer is the sense of community it provides. So far, this column has mainly focused on professional esports and how pursuing esports as a career should not be stigmatized — but pro players are just one part of the sport. With just about every aspect of media moving toward the digital space, it’s incredibly important to understand the influence that individual “normal people” can have on an entire community. Some of the most famous streamers have built their followings on streaming platforms because of their professional careers, but the vast majority of streamers are just normal people — many of whom aren’t even that good at the game they play. Streamers alleviate the fear of this prejudice by providing a safe space for people who love video games. Most streamers are normal people. They are relatable to viewers who are searching for a place to fit in. The reality is that esports, as a part of society, are becoming more similar to traditional sports. Some of the most passionate football fans have never played a day of organized football, but that doesn’t stop them from watching every Sunday, playing fantasy football and discussing the game with their friends. The other prominent aspect of gaming is the streamers: people who commentate while they play video games live for thousands to watch. These people dedicate much of their lives to streaming themselves playing video games for several hours a day. The top streamers receive endorsements and donations as well as money from viewers who pay for premium content. My first column at the Daily Trojan was about esports. I still remember the look on our former editor-in-chief’s face when I, the sports editor she just hired, told her that video games count as sports. For a while after that, I suppressed my passion for video games, watching streamers in privacy in the Daily Trojan sports office. (For the record, she later let me cover a big esports event.) Sam Arslanian is a junior writing about esports. He is also a former sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Plug & Play,” runs every other Wednesday.